Hence men called and found her very cold; yet those of her own kin whom she loved knew that the heart of a summer rose was not warmer, nor sweeter, nor richer than hers. And first among these was her brother—at once her guardian and her slave—who thought her perfect, and would no more have crossed her will than he would have set his foot on her beautiful, imperial head. Corona d’Amague had been his friend; the only one for whom he had ever sought to break her unvarying indifference to her lovers, but for whom even he had pleaded vainly until one autumn season, when they had stayed together at a great archducal castle in South Austria. In one of the forest-glades, awaiting the fanfare of the hunt, she rejected, for the third time, the passionate supplication of the superb noble who ranked with the D’Ossuna and the Medina-Sidonia. He rode from her in great bitterness, in grief that no way moved her—she was importuned with these entreaties to weariness. An hour after he was brought past her, wounded and senseless; he had saved her brother from imminent death at his own cost, and the tusks of the mighty Styrian boar had plunged through and through his frame, as they had met in the narrow woodland glade.
“He will be a cripple—a paralyzed cripple—for life!” said the one whose life had been saved by his devotion to her that night; and his lips shook a little under his golden beard as he spoke.
She looked at him; she loved him well, and no homage to herself could have moved her as this sacrifice for him had done.
“You think he will live?” she asked.
“They say it is sure. He may live on to old age. But how? My God! what a death in life! And all for my sake, in my stead!”
She was silent several moments; then she raised her face, a little paler than it had been, but with a passionless resolve set on it.
“Philip, we do not leave our debts unpaid. Go; tell him I will be his wife.”
“His wife—now! Venetia——”
“Go!” she said briefly. “Tell him what I say.”
“But what a sacrifice! In your beauty, your youth—”
“He did not count cost. Are we less generous? Go—tell him.”
He was told; and was repaid. Such a light of unutterable joy burned through the misty agony of his eyes as never, it seemed to those who saw, had beamed before in mortal eyes. He did not once hesitate at the acceptance of her self-surrender; he only pleaded that the marriage ceremony should pass between them that night.
There were notaries and many priests in the great ducal household; all was done as he desired. She consented without wavering; she had passed her word, she would not have withdrawn it if it had been a thousand times more bitter in its fulfillment. The honor of her house was dearer to her than any individual happiness. This man for them had lost peace, health, joy, strength, every hope of life; to dedicate her own life to him, as he had vainly